Comments for Avatar
Ian and I went to see Avatar, a film I was not expecting to see in the theaters. I love science fiction but the big block busters usually rub me the wrong way. But the tickets were a gift so there we were this morning drinking coffee and eating popcorn and listening to piped in Michael Jackson music before the previews. Let's just say I went in there feeling more than skeptical. I was expecting to hate it and be stuck sitting through a three hour film wearing uncomfortable 3D glasses.
The gist of the film is that a paralyzed ex-Marine is recruited to take his twin's place when he is killed in a robbery. The avatars are grown from a mixture of na'vi and human DNA to allow the humans to interact with the natives of Pandora. Unfortunately the scientific and diplomatic aspects of human and na'vi interactions is being pushed to the wayside by the mining company's need to make expected quarterly profits. So think Monsters' Inc. (who also has a Sully as the main character) except that James Sullivan didn't put on a human body to harvest the scream from the kids.
Jake Sully comes on board as a mixture of the reluctant hero and the shit for brains jarhead. Throughout the film we get his voice over explaining what's going on and his thoughts on them but obviously told from some time in the future. Sully's cluelessness is our ticket to ride along. As he learns; we learn. Seeing how his life on the base is mitigated by being wheelchair bound added for me an extra and unexpected depth to the film.
In terms of storytelling, Avatar isn't breaking any ground. If you've read any James Fenimore Cooper novels, you've read the same story used in Avatar. There's of course a heavy homage to Heart of Darkness and it's cinematic adaptation Apocalypse Now except that Kurtz has opted to stay on the base to call the shots. It's not Kurtz who goes native in this one.
What sets Cameron's film apart from the novels by Cooper and Conrad is the world building. I especially loved the scientific team headed by Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver). Grace has some of the best lines while teaching the rest of us about the na'vi language (she "wrote the book") and biology of the planet.
Points too for bothering to create a language that has a recognizable grammar. Once you hear enough of it and read along with the subtitles you can start to get the gist of what they're saying. I also think some of the big choral music is actually sung in the language. I also like that the natives' ability to speak English is explained instead of just having it done that way for convenience. Having them speak with a Jamaican accent though was a bit weird.
To make Pandora seem alien the set design makes use of a lot of black light and glow in the dark features. All the plants glow at night in either green, violet or pink. To show how connected the Na'vi are to nature their footsteps literally light up the pathways that they walk. It's pretty to look at but hokey.
The 3D: We saw the film in 3D. The glasses use linear polarized lenses. Think Captain E.O. When we saw Up over the summer that film used circular polarization which is more forgiving with the 3D effect. When we were watching Up it didn't matter if we lounged in our seats; we could still see the 3D images perfectly focused. With Avatar we had to sit bolt upright with our heads perfectly forward facing. A slight deviation in any direction and the images would start to separate.
Frankly though there's nothing in the film that needs the 3D. It's just there to make it seem "cool" and to drive up the ticket price. Sure, there are the typical chase and fight scenes where everything comes at the screen. It's been done to death and serves no purpose. The 3D isn't integrated into the story. I am looking forward to re-seeing the film without the 3D so I can concentrate on the artwork.
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